The Authority of Scripture

by Paul Cook

 

Introduction.

THE 450th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation calls for a re-examination of the authority of Scripture in the light of that great event and the contemporary Church situation of our own day. I am not attempting an exposition of the biblical doctrine of Scripture. This has been done adequately on many occasions. What should concern us on this historic day is the significance of the authority of Scripture as an instrument of reformation.

There would have been no Reformation at all apart from the authority of Scripture. It was not because men accepted and read the Scriptures that the Reformation took place. It took place because men recognised their divine authority and obeyed them under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

At the Reformation the inspiration and authority of the Bible as the Word of God was not disputed as such. The dispute was over the interpretation of Scripture and whether the Church was more authoritative than the Scriptures. These matters were debated around the central issue of the Reformation which was that of man’s salvation. The basic principles which emerged from the Reformers’ teaching were sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola gratia (by grace alone) and sola fide (by faith alone).

The only justification for Protestantism as a movement lay in the Scriptures. The authority of Protestantism was the authority of the Bible alone. The other principles “by grace alone” and “by faith alone” were dependent upon this fundamental principle. The Reformers taught that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone because they recognised no other authority in this matter except the Scripture. They rejected the addition of Church tradition and human reason to the authority of the Word. Luther in his commentary on Galatians thunders against the Pope or any in the Church who dare presume to set themselves above Scripture: “Paul subjecteth both himself and an angel from heaven, and doctors upon earth, and all other teachers and masters whatsoever, under the authority of the Scripture. This queen ought to rule, and all ought to obey and be subject unto her. They ought not to be masters, judges, or arbiters, but only witnesses, disciples, and confessors of the Scripture, whether it be the Pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or an angel from heaven. Neither ought any doctrine to be taught or heard in the Church besides the pure Word of God, that is to say, the holy Scripture; otherwise, accursed be both the teachers and hearers together with their doctrine.”

The Evangelicals at the diet of Speyer in 1529 declared that “they must protest and testify publicly before God that they could do nothing contrary to His word”. The word Protestant was coined as the result of this affirmation, and upon this foundation of the authority of Scripture Protestantism bore its testimony. Upon this one pillar of strength it has been upheld. But whenever Protestantism has turned away from the authority of Scripture it has become perilously weak. Reject the authority of Scripture and it will only be a matter of time before you are back in Rome or have become a humanist.

When I speak of Protestantism I refer to what I believe to be historic Christianity in contrast to the Medieval Church and Roman Catholicism, or indeed, in contrast to all man-made systems of religion and thought. The authority of Scripture is the strength of true Christianity and therefore of Protestantism. It is not surprising that Satan should make it an object of special attack in an endeavour to break the backbone of true religion. And in this respect the greatest enemy of the Church is not the world without; but the doubter within.

In the last 150 years a conflict of increasing ferocity has raged within the Church over the inspiration of Scripture. This attack on its divine inspiration has undermined its authority because the inspiration and authority of the Bible are bound up together. The Church has had to fight different battles in different ages. The conflict in the early Church was over the Trinity and the Person of Christ; at the time of Augustine, over the nature of man and sin; in the days of Anselm, over the nature of the atonement; and at the Reformation it was over the question of authority as it applied to man’s salvation; and now, the conflict is over the inspiration and authority of the Bible as the Word of God.

This question of authority is still the greatest issue of the day in the Christian Church, and, as a matter of fact, outside it too. Since the emergence of Modernism and its development in theological liberalism the issue has not been settled. There has been a marked tendency in Evangelical circles in recent years with the rise of the new biblical theology to pretend that this controversy has been satisfactorily concluded. The real issue today we are led to believe is the doctrine of the Church. But I hope to show that the ferment over the nature of the Church is only the result of an unresolved conflict over the authority of Scripture.

What is happening today is that like so many other vital truths it is being swept under an ecumenical carpet of make-believe upon which gathered clergy and religious leaders strut around talking about fellowship, whilst all the time ignoring the basis upon which true Christian fellowship can alone exist.

I. WHAT IS THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE?

It is important to start with a few bull-dozing negatives to clear away the rubble of modern confusion.

The Scripture is not authoritative because it is “reasonable”. In actual fact the Word of God is not at all reasonable to the mind of the natural man. It is “foolishness to him” (1 Corinthians 2:14). If its authority lay in its reasonableness, then its real authority would be the authority of man’s reason and critical judgments.

Nor is the authority of Scripture the authority of those who recorded it, for then its authority would be the authority of man’s reliability as a witness, or as an interpreter of religious events, or as a scribe.

Neither is the authority of Scripture the authority of its custodians for then its authority would be subject to the Church; and, as we shall see, the Church owes its existence to the Word and not vice versa.

And finally, the authority of Scripture is not an authority derived from the effect it has over men. This effect varies as men vary, and the authority of the Word is not like a yo-yo, attached to the strings of man’s subjective feelings.

The authority of Scripture is an innate authority. It arises out of its divine origin and its divine inspiration. It is the nature of Scripture which determines its authority. The authority of Scripture rests upon the divine revelation it contains, and the divine inspiration by which it has been given. “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved (i.e. carried or borne along) by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Holy Spirit determined the form and content of Scripture by inspiration.

The phrase “inspiration of the Bible” is totally inadequate as a doctrinal safeguard today for it has come to mean almost anything. The phrase “divine inspiration” is not much better, because it has been used to mean an inspiration which has its origin in man, but is divine-like. No! The inspiration of Scripture is a divine inspiration in the sense that the Scripture is divine in its origin and communication to “holy men of God” who were the instruments of its conveyance under the Holy Spirit. “This is a principle,” declares Calvin, “which distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God has spoken to us and we are fully persuaded that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commanded from heaven to declare.”

The inspiration must be a verbal inspiration. An inspiration which is not verbal is no inspiration at all. Meaning is conveyed and safeguarded by use of words, and the alteration of one word can change the meaning entirely. The divine revelation contained in Scripture is a verbal revelation; one which can be stated in the form of definite propositions of divine truth. The Reformers believed in verbal inspiration and verbal revelation.

I use the phrase “the Scripture” and “the Word of God” interchangeably just as the Reformers did. Luther said: “I will not waste a word in arguing with one who does not consider the Scriptures are the Word of God.” By the phrase “the Bible is the Word of God” we mean that the origin, inspiration and compilation of the Bible is of God. It also implies, as the Reformers taught, that it is through the Scriptures that God in Christ speaks to men. This is where His voice is heard. This is where His authority is recognised by means of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture is incapable of error, just as God is incapable of error. We do not mean that all the Bible is revelation or that all that is recorded is truth. Rabshakeh’s speech (cp. 2 Kings 18) was neither revelation nor truth, but it is the Word of God because it has been truly recorded by divine intention, and conveys a divine lesson by which God speaks to us.

So the authority of Scripture is the authority it possesses by reason of its divine origin and inspiration; by reason of it being the Word of God. “The Scriptures come from God, not from men,” declared Zwingle. They carry, therefore, the authority of God Himself. A person’s words cannot be separated from the character of the person who speaks them; they do, in fact, reveal and convey that character. The Scripture partakes of the attributes of the One whose Word it is. To hear the Scripture is to hear God. This was our Lord’s view of the Old Testament. It was also that of the apostles and the writers of the New Testament (cp. the phrases, “God saith”, “the Holy Ghost said” in Acts 13:34-35; Hebrews 3:7; 10:15-17, etc). In the Bible we are confronted with God. The Word of God constitutes the authority of Scripture, and the Spirit of God within believers confirms it (cp. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16). The authority of the Bible is an infallible authority just as God, whose Word it is, is infallible. This is how the Reformers understood biblical infallibility. The Scriptures are infallible in as much as they are the Word of God. And all Scripture, they taught, is the Word of God, though some parts of Scripture may make that Word more evident than others. But the Word of God is in every part of Scripture. To depart from the authority of the Scripture, therefore, is to depart from God. To disobey Scripture is to disobey God. To accept the Scripture is to accept God’s Person. It is nonsense to talk, as the Ecumenicals do, about obeying “the will of God” and being guided by “the voice of the Spirit” whilst at the same time being unwilling to accept the Scripture where that will is found and where the Spirit speaks. To reject the authority of Scripture is to reject the authority of God who gave it, of Jesus Christ to whom it points, and the Holy Spirit who inspired it. “The Scripture cannot be broken,” declared our Lord (John 10:35).

Finally, the Scripture is authoritative in all matters about which it speaks. It speaks about God and man, about sin and salvation; and also about the origin of the world and man, about history, about the psychology of man, and about culture. The believer who accepts the authority of Scripture as the authority of God cannot departmentalise his life. He must not try to accommodate the Bible to modern science or man’s views of history. It stands over against all man’s presuppositions of thought. Science and history must be understood in terms compatible with the Scriptures. It is inconsistent to claim to accept the authority of Scripture and yet at the same time seek to accommodate the Bible to the modern scientific method, or accept certain forms of art and music which do violence to clear principles of biblical revelation.

II. THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE AND THE CHURCH

In these days of ecumenicity we often hear it said that the Reformation was a big mistake. We are told that we must not hark back to the Reformation, but that we need to go back before the Reformation to the New Testament. Superficially this argument is impressive, but it is in fact fallacious. You cannot get back before the Reformation because the Reformation itself was a movement which called men back to the origins of Christianity — to the Word of God — by its greatest principle “Scripture alone”. It is impossible therefore in terms of principles to go back beyond the Reformation. The beginning to which the “moderns” are going back is not the birth of the gospel, but the fall of man, in questioning the authority of God’s Word and elevating, as they do, human wisdom. They are not men of a “New Reformation”, nor are they “New Christians”, but just the old retrogrades dressed up in modern fig leaves.

Sometimes it is claimed that the Scriptures owe their existence to the Church: that the Church decided which books were to be in the canon and which were not. And so, it is argued, the Scriptures are not a final authority. But this argument is entirely false for two reasons. The first is that the Church never decided which books were Scripture and which were not. The canon was formed when the books which had already been universally acknowledged as authoritative among the churches were gathered together. And secondly, the Scriptures do not owe their existence to the Church either in the Old Testament or the New Testament. The Reformers in going back to the Word of God and the authority of Scripture rightly stressed the priority of the Word of God over and above the Church.

The people of God have always been under the authority of the Word of God whether spoken or written because they owe their existence to God’s Word. The Word of God has been their only mandate. It was God’s Word to Abraham which brought him into fellowship with God. “God goes everywhere before him with His Word,” remarked Luther. “The God of glory appeared . . .” (Acts 7:2). It was God’s Word to Israel which constituted them a nation and His people. The Decalogue was “written with the finger of God”. Israel became the custodians of “the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2) by which they had come to know God. It was Peter’s preaching of God’s Word which led to the expansion of the Church at Pentecost. And so it has been through the ages. The preached Word has called the people of God into being under the operation of the Spirit. It is true that God’s acts accompanied His Word, but the Scriptures were not the Church’s interpretation of those acts as some teach. The Scriptures are God’s interpretation of His own acts; and, more often than not God’s Word preceded His acts, so that the people could understand who was acting, and what exactly He was doing. The Scriptures themselves have, taught Luther, “been brought down to us by act of God”.

By God’s Word the Church of the Old Testament and the New Testament came into being, and from this basic fact, to which the whole testimony of Scripture bears witness, certain vital truths follow:

  1. The nature of the Church is defined by the nature and authority of Scripture.
  2. The Christian life is defined by the authority of Scripture.
  3. The Church and the Christian have no authority apart from the authority of that to which they owe their existence, viz. the Word of God.

Although Evangelicals accept the inspiration of Scripture there has been a marked reluctance in practice over the last 100 years to submit to its authority with regard to these truths. The Reformation took place not because men accepted the inspiration of the Bible, but because having accepted its divine inspiration they were overwhelmed by its divine authority. The Scriptures demand obedience to God, pure religion, and the application of biblical principles in the Christian’s everyday life and in the life of the Church. Obedience to these holy demands of God’s Word led to the Reformation. Men submitted themselves to the authority of the Scriptures. And the authority of the Scriptures presents the greatest challenge for all professing Christians today, particularly with regard to the truths just mentioned. We must examine them in detail.

(1) The nature of the Church is defined by the nature and authority of Scripture. What is a church? Let Calvin answer: “Wherever we find the Word of God, purely preached and heard, and the Sacraments duly administered according to the institution of Christ, there, it is not to be doubted, is a church of God.” It is the Word which constitutes churches as churches, and it is the Word which perpetuates them. An acknowledgment of the authority of God’s Word is the only guarantee that the Church remains the Church, and that the Church will be enlarged. Wherever the authority of Scripture is rejected and the Word ceases to be preached, there the Church ceases to be the Church, whatever doctrinal articles it may recognise in theory. In other words, the Church is where the Word is, and where the Word isn’t the Church isn’t.1 “The Church are the lambs that hear the Shepherd’s voice,” declared Luther (cp. John 10:4, 5, 16).

There are certain painful but inevitable conclusions which follow from this. Whatever a company of worshipping people may choose to call themselves, if the Word of God is not “purely preached” they are not a church of Jesus Christ. There may be several true believers amongst them, but they are not a church if the Word of God is denied, and they have no biblical authority to call themselves a church. If believers find themselves in such a company then in obedience to the authority of Scripture they must come out of it and join a company of worshippers where the Word is preached. To acquiesce in error is just another way of denying the truth.

It is often argued that Christians ought to seek the reformation of apostate churches and not separate from them like some “holy elite”. In the past Evangelicals have been notorious for leaving churches on the grounds that they have become unspiritual in their way of life; so had the Corinthians, but Paul did not anathematise them. We must not separate from other Christians by reason of their low spirituality — our own is not very high — but we do say with Scriptural warrant that we ought to separate from people who are perverting and rejecting the truth of the gospel, however religious or respectable their lives may be. Luther affirmed in his sixty-second thesis: “The true treasure of the Church is the sacrosanct gospel of the glory and grace of God.” Yes; and if the treasure has gone, the receptacle ceases to be the treasury. A church without the Word of God is not a church.

Unrepentant Judaisers are to be anathematised (cp. Galatians 1), but it is wrong to anathematise sinful Corinthians. The one were preaching “another gospel”; the others were preaching the true gospel and so were a true church, even though their lives were grossly inconsistent in some respects.

This principle — that no local assembly of people professing to be a church is a true church unless the truth of the gospel and authority of the Word is recognised — should also affect the relationship of true churches with those that falsely claim to be churches. The apostasy of the last hundred years has led to a situation in which Evangelical churches within the denominations find themselves affiliated with apostate churches. Need we ask, “What is their Scriptural duty?” The sooner this ungodly pretence of having fellowship with those that deny the Word is abandoned the better it will be for the gospel. The arguments employed by the denominational revival fellowships against Evangelical participation in the W.C.C. equally apply to their own affiliation with apostate churches within their denominations. For true churches to sever their connections with apostate churches cannot be schism, because the latter have ceased to be a part of the Church of Christ. Schism is the breaking of the body of Christ, and therefore to leave a company of people that have ceased to be the body of Christ is not schism. Nor is it schism to come out of a denomination, because there is no biblical justification for the existence of denominations. But it is schism to acquiesce in denominational divisions whilst recognising that true churches exist beyond the boundaries of one’s own denomination. The Scriptural teaching on the Church represents the Church universal with a capital “C”, and churches as local assemblies of believers where the Word is preached with a small “c”. It is the duty of each local church to freely fellowship with all other churches where the Word is preached. This can only be achieved when churches are prepared to forsake their denominational rigidity.

The Scriptures do not exhort Christians to bear witness to the truth of the gospel within the professing Church; either in local churches or in denominations or in the World Council of Churches; the place for witness-bearing is the world not the Church. The authority of Scripture calls true believers to break from the authority of their traditions, as did the Reformers, where that authority is in conflict with God’s Word. Believers must leave the houses of Baal where an incense of abomination is being offered to God and join themselves with those who worship God in spirit and in truth. Ministers who believe God’s Word are making friends with Satan when they have “fellowship” with those false prophets who spend their wretched days prophesying lies. Evangelical churches are not promoting Christian fellowship by being affiliated with so-called churches that recognise no authority except denominational imperialism.

(2) The Christian life is defined by the authority of Scripture. We are living in an age of sickly tolerance. It is a tolerance of weakness and not of strength. Its source is not love, but unbelief. It is not really tolerance at all, but a spineless indifference to truth. This attitude has affected Evangelicals, so that there is found a noticeable reluctance to think of anyone as not being a Christian. In order to preserve an Evangelical message together with this mood of false charity, Evangelicals have tended since about 1880 to introduce distinctions for which there is no biblical warrant: e.g. “carnal Christians” and “spiritual Christians”; “children of God” and “sons of God” — and in this way the cutting edge of the gospel has been blunted. In biblical terms, a man is either a Christian or not a Christian; either a believer or an unbeliever; saved or lost; and either spiritual or carnal. There is no spiritual elite amongst Christians — that is the old Gnostic heresy into which too many Evangelicals have fallen — the only differences between Christians are degrees of spiritual fruitfulness and these are never lawful grounds for separation. But if a man does not believe the true gospel he is an unbeliever — no matter how religious he may be. We need to return to this clear distinction which the Bible makes between the Christian and the non-Christian. Our failure to stress it has led to much confusion as to what a Christian really is and what a Christian church is. Before we can talk about Christian unity and Church unity we need to define what we mean by the Church and what we mean by a Christian. Most of the confusion today over the question of Church unity and Christian unity would disappear if we did this. We would see that why we disagree with many over matters of Christian unity is that we are not agreed on the most fundamental questions of all; What is the Christian gospel? and, What is a Christian?

(3) The Church and the Christian have no authority apart from the authority of the Word of God to which they owe their existence. This means that the life of the Church and the Christians must be lived under the authority of the Word. Within Protestantism an appeal to personal experience has frequently been elevated above the authority of Scripture. We have all met those self-opinionated popes of Evangelicalism who pronounce with a note of infallibility upon any question by declaring “God has told me — so I know!” Too many of our popular beliefs and practices have been upheld by the authority of subjective experience.

We need to be careful about using phrases such as “I feel led” and “The Lord has guided me.” They can become an excuse for self-will. Our “guidance” must always be examined by the Word of God otherwise we may find ourselves claiming to be guided by the Spirit quite contrary to the Scriptures which He inspired. When our experiences are truly spiritual they are confirmed by Scriptural authority. But if the teaching of Scripture conflicts with our experience, then that experience is brought into question.

It is true that the Reformers spoke of the internal authority of the Spirit as well as the external authority of the Word. But they never separated the witness of the Spirit from the testimony of the Word. They taught that the internal witness of the Spirit constantly confirms to the believer the external authority of the Scriptures. The Roman Catholics transfer to the Church this function which is the prerogative of the Spirit and in this way elevate the authority of the Church above that of the Scripture and the Spirit.

III. THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE AND PREACHING

This subject follows logically from what we have said about the authority of Scripture and the Church. Since it is by God’s Word that the Church has been brought into being, and by God’s Word that it is enlarged, then whoever believes in the authority of Scripture must also believe in the authority of true preaching. True preaching is the utterance of a man obeying the command of the apostle Paul to “preach the word”. The preaching of the Word is the most powerful and effective instrument the Church possesses. By it the Church is sanctified and the world evangelised.

It is a sad commentary on our spiritual condition that even in our Evangelical churches we seem to have lost confidence in preaching. Recently a friend of mine was preaching one Sunday afternoon in a church which is supposed to be doctrinally very sound. To his astonishment he found that no sooner had he started his sermon than the whole congregation closed their eyes for an after-dinner nap! The fault was not the preacher’s. He was a visiting preacher and had only just begun his sermon. Whatever we may profess to believe in theory, if we are not ardent believers in the importance of preaching and earnest hearers of God’s Word, then in practice we are denying the divine authority of Scripture.

The rediscovery of the authority of the Scriptures at the Reformation led to a revival of preaching. From all over Europe men came and sat under Calvin at Geneva to go back to their own lands as preachers of the Word, such as the fiery John Knox from Scotland. A ritualistic religion needs no preacher; but a truly spiritual life based upon the Word of God cries out for preaching.

In times of spiritual decline there has always been a marked loss of confidence in preaching. This in turn has always been accompanied by desperate attempts on the part of the Church to regain its lost authority. An example of this is the Age of Reason following the Puritan era which had been outstanding for the prominence given to the authority of the Scriptures. The Church foolishly took up the carnal weapon of human reason in an attempt to fight a spiritual battle. Needless to say, the battle was lost. A theology based upon “natural laws”, and a God whose existence depends upon human “proofs” has no more authority over the natural man than reason has — and that is very little.

In our own day the Church is struggling to regain its lost authority. But instead of returning to the authority of Scripture it is seeking authority in organisational unity or in giving the ministry an artificial dignity. The authority of the ministry is not the authority of the “expert” in religious affairs, nor is it the authority of a man’s personality or dress, nor is it the authority of academic attainments such as university degrees — though we do not despise learning — nor is it an authority derived from some central ministerial appointments body, but the authority of the ministry is the authority of the Word of God alone.

The authority of a minister of the gospel is the authority of preaching, and the only authority of preaching is the authority of the Word of God. There is a serious danger of giving this vital principle a mere lip-service whilst avoiding its implications. One of my church members was recently in Germany and one Sunday attended a Lutheran church in Freiburg. The preacher based his sermon ostensibly upon the authority of the Scriptures by dealing with that passage concerning the raising of the widow of Nain’s son. But he drew the following remarkable conclusions from this passage:

  1. It taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
  2. It demonstrated the need for the re-unification of Germany.

We may disagree or even laugh at his conclusions, but I would point out that his technique has been characteristic of very much Evangelical preaching in the last eighty years. If we use the text of Scripture as a mere pretext for what we want to say then we are not really serious about the authority of Scripture. What the Scripture itself declares has an immense authority, which does not need enhancing by any fanciful additions or interpretations of our own.

In the light of the authority of Scripture the following principles of preaching are axiomatic.

1. Our handling of the Word of God will be a serious examination and study of what the Word itself has to say. It is not a mark of spirituality to enter a pulpit without preparation and claim to speak “as the Spirit moves”. A preacher moved by the Spirit diligently studies the Scriptures to avoid careless and misleading interpretations of the Word of God.

2. We will endeavour to preach ALL the counsel of God. There is a dangerous form of Higher Criticism abroad in Evangelicalism. It is not the Higher Criticism which ventures to say that the Bible is wrong, but one which dismembers the Word of God by prejudice and neglect. The difference between the Modernist who cuts out portions of the Bible as being erroneous and the Evangelical who neglects those portions he does not like is a very thin line which can easily be crossed. It is being crossed by a number of Evangelicals today. The Higher Critic does not hesitate to contradict Paul when he feels like it, nor does he have any qualms about disbelieving the biblical doctrines of the depravity of man, of the wrath of God, of the coming judgment, and of hell. But many so-called Evangelical preachers never mention these things. One is the criticism of sinful pride; the other is the criticism of sinful prejudice; and both are an expression of unbelief.

3. Our preaching will be an exposition of the Scriptures in order to project divine truth. Light and frothy preaching may entertain but it does not do justice to the authority of Scripture. There has been an appalling neglect in this century of patient exposition of the whole Word of God. The Old Testament has almost been forgotten in some churches. One of the first things men like Luther and Calvin did at the time of the Reformation was to open the Bible and preach through it verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book. Their toil was not unrewarded.

4. Our preaching will be an interpretation of Scripture by Scripture. Its inspiration demands this. Too many fanciful ideas have gained currency in Evangelical circles because we have failed to abide by the rule that God is His own interpreter.

In concluding this section we affirm that the inspiration and authority of the pulpit is nothing less than the inspiration and authority of the Scripture. The two must never be divorced in our thinking. And we cannot expect the former without the latter. The decline in the authority of preaching, and hence in the practice of preaching and its effectiveness, is due to the fact that the authority of Scripture has been undermined. The reason underlying the failure of the modern church to produce preachers is that too few men in our pulpits have been overwhelmed and mastered by the authority of the Word. The Reformation produced great preachers because men came under the authority of the Scriptures. Only as we return to the authority of the Bible will men rise up gifted to preach, and will the pulpit recover again its lost authority.

IV. THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE AND EVANGELISM

The life of the churches today fails to give the impression that the Church believes its expansion depends upon the authority of the Scriptures. But the divine commission to evangelise comes to the Church through the Scriptures. The authority to evangelise is a Scriptural authority. And the evangel we are called to spread abroad is none other than the Word of the living God.

Although preaching still plays a significant part in evangelism the impression is often given that confidence for the success of evangelism is really in other things. There are those who seem to think that our spiritual heritage in this country can be preserved by force of law and acts of Parliament. Others think they are advancing Christ’s kingdom in meeting the intellectual objections of the unbeliever by rationalising the faith in terms of the modern scientific method. Then there are those today who are supremely confident that the cause of the gospel will prevail because Evangelicals now have many more scholars than formerly. And the hopes of others are without doubt pinned to new methods of “contacting” the outsiders, e.g. “beat” groups.

But if we take the Scriptures seriously and believe that they possess the very authority of God Himself our confidence will surely be in God’s Word. It will occupy a unique place in our thinking, so that all other things will seem quite insignificant compared with it. The point of contact between the Church and the world is the Word of God because nothing reaches the unbeliever with more relevance and authority. In many evangelistic meetings today the preaching of the Word has actually been replaced by “pop” music, films or testimonies. These things, however harmless they may be, can never be a substitute for the preaching of the Word. The risen Christ commissioned the Church to preach the gospel in all the world, because it is by the authority of God’s Word and the ordained instrumentality of preaching that men are brought to repentance and faith.

The replacement of the Word by other things in our churches is a clear indication that the Church is no longer confident that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. Only those who have felt for themselves in their own spiritual experience the overwhelming authority of the Scriptures will retain a belief in that authority. This is one reason why we so desperately need revival. It will reassert the supreme importance of the Word of God as the instrument of evangelism and give us all a far greater confidence in its authority and power.

Conclusion.

To accept the inspiration of the Scripture all we have to be is Evangelical in our head; but to accept the authority of Scripture we have to be Evangelical in our heart and life too. The real truth of the matter is that unless we are prepared to accept the authority of the Scriptures our pretentions to belief in their inspiration is so much hypocrisy.

The Reformation took place as men accepted the authority of God’s Word. It was not a mistake, but one of the greatest and most glorious revivals of true religion this world has ever seen. It blasted a false ecumenicity in two and created a holy division in the Church of the Middle Ages. As the flail of the Word of God moved across the threshing-floor of Europe, so a wind from heaven came to separate the chaff from the wheat. The Reformation brought men back to the Word of God and to the feet of Christ. Unity for unity’s sake is a pagan notion. It is a legacy in the Church inherited from Constantine. The unity we need to strive after is a unity brought about by a recognition of the authority of the Word of God.


Notes

1. Matt. 18:20; 28:20; John 4:23f.; 8:31, 32, 47; 14:23f.; 17:6-8; Acts 2:41f.; 8: 4, 14, 25; 9:31; 2 Cor. 9:13; Eph. 2:20; 1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:8, 17-19; 1 John 1:1, 3; 2 John 9-11; cp. Isa. 8:20 with Rom. 9:6.


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